COVID-19 is driving digital transformation faster than any strategy

5 min read
Jun 17, 2020 12:00:00 AM

Just like everyone else, we have been reflecting on what will happen in the Pharmaceutical Industry after this pandemic has passed. This is the third of our three latest articles on priorities and areas of focus for leaders navigating out of lockdown.

How have you responded in your brand planning?

In February, I began writing this article raising the question:

"In 2020 should a brand have a digital strategy?"

Fortuitously, COVID-19 has not forced a major rewrite.

Previously you might have been thinking:*

  • “My brand strategy is enough”
  • “Digital is just a local channel”
  • “The global team don’t have customers…”

However, if digital is thought of at just a tactical level, you might miss out on the strategic brand options that could have enabled you to respond faster, quicker, better to COVID-19.

When given the opportunity to review global and local brand plans, I am often surprised at the absence of a clear digital direction in brand strategy.

Today’s brand planning process, adopted by Global teams across Pharma, often have strong customer prescribing behaviour and segmentation upon which the strategy is based. The industry data tells us:

  • More than 50% of HCPs are digital natives
  • Less than 50% of HCP engagements are face to face
  • Fewer HCPs are seeing representatives
  • Google is the go-to for patients seeking information with 7% of Googles daily searches being health related = 70,000 searches every minute.
  • “Fake News” in general life translates to even lower levels of trust in Pharma Marketing
  • Digital information sources are the “go-to touchpoint” to meet the modern-day customer’s needs.

Yet what I see is that Pharma Brand Plans consistently address digital tactically and not strategically.

Meanwhile, the brand will have Clinical, Regulatory, Manufacturing Strategies to enable the brand to achieve its strategies, why the difference?

My argument is that depending on your brand planning structure, you should either have a brand Digital Strategy or digital embedded clearly in your strategic areas of your brand strategy.

There are costly consequences for a brand failing to take a leadership position to strategically address digital:

  • Wrong Message received - HCPs not engaging with your content due to a brand teams poor understanding of what customers need or consume from digital content.
  • Wrong Place - HCPs not being exposed to the content due to incorrect channel selection resulting from poor knowledge of which channels are working and why
  • Wrong Time – Content and channel selection incorrect for adoption sequence the customer is being targeted.
  • Increased costs in the countries as they address this by creating themselves (multiple times).

My 5 thoughts on how brands can strategically include digital.

1/ Challenge your segmented customer journey(s) with a digital lens perspective

Brand business segments are developed based on lots of commercial data and prescribing behaviour. However, these customer segments frequently display a different digital behaviour which is often not captured. For example, Early Adopters have different digital consumption habits and reference points compared to Late Adopters. The customer experience is often lacking and we all know the results of a poor customer experience.

Brand plans could leverage this within “Customer portraits” and provide strategic guidance, on customer experience or using digital criteria, as to when for example to shift to Late Adopter messaging AND channels.

What do you know about how COVID-19 has changed your target segments online behaviour?

2/ Define those channels which are a strategic imperative and the reach expectations

Pre COVID-19, many brands were achieving more than 50% of HCP engagements digitally and 100% of patient engagements. COVID-19 has challenged those who did not have their websites in order, nor the ability to communicate through remote conferencing tools or even email.

New HCP habits are being formed by COVID-19 and it would be well worthwhile taking a moment to re-evaluate which channels are strategically important for a brand (at its life cycle stage) and leading the organisation to leverage those channels.

It might be through a particular platform (e.g. Patient support; peer to peer communication or market access) to achieve a particular goal. These channels might not be a core business offering but if they serve a brand strategy then they should be supported strategically through brand leadership.

3/ Get the right insights: Help make the data come to you

Any strategy starts and ends with data and analysis. Data lakes and across globe analytics are providing those early investors with a real first mover advantage. HCPs stopped seeing reps/MSLs as a result of COVID-19, which of your channels had an increase in use and engagement as a result? Does this become your most valuable channel in an emergency?

If you don’t have access to the data, a brand can still be very clear on what information needs to be tagged and what you expect your country colleagues to provide you. A few clear data points on a few campaigns will provide global teams with a lot of information about what made those campaigns a winner or a loser.

4/ Does your content model delivering sufficient quantities of the right material, for the right channels, to meet the customer needs?

Independently of your global to local content model, or the available asset providing platforms, getting the right quantity of content available to meet a customer centric need, is never more important, than in today’s content hungry channels. COVID-19 has provided plenty of cases for simple customer facing content that supports needs.

As we move away from this immediate requirement what strategically can you learn from this? Combine this with your strategic customer centric needs and touch-points and then build into future campaigns.

5/ Is your Digital Detail Aid delivering digital opportunities for you?

Finally, the digital detail aid is, in my opinion, under leveraged from a strategic perspective. Historically, global do not create the right digital detail aid framework for a dynamic, interactive, engaging detail aid, that delivers the right content to each customer.

COVID-19 and no face to face visits means this is redundant for the moment. However, the iPad detail aid is replaced by a need for a virtual version that requires a completely different type of engagement content. I believe this dual need will be here to stay and need to be designed into brand planning and strategic intent.

So, could the above have helped you in COVID-19?

Who knows, however, if the basics were available to you, the brand should have been in a position to inform and support customers in their moment of need with the right information. I am sure moving forward our business life will change.

The winners will be those who establish the right process, get the right insights, address capability gaps, and run agile pilots to make it easier for brand teams, the world over, to deliver into the new digital practices and needs of our customers.

Challenge yourself

Is your Insight and Brand building process really addressing the modern-day digital HCP and Patients needs and use of digital technology?

If you would like to talk more about your brand building process and discuss the OxfordSM Staircase® and Insight Capability approaches, please do get in touch with me at

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